From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
ENS SCI seminar seeks ethical voices in globalization debate
Worldwide Faith News <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Wed, 28 Apr 2004 12:12:11 -0700
Wednesday, April 28, 2004
SCI seminar seeks ethical voices in globalization debate
By Debra Wagner
(ENS) "The grass beneath our feet is burning. Jobs are rapidly disappearing
from our communities. We need to find a shared moral language in order to
create an ethical voice in the debate over globalization," said the Rev.
Chuck W. Rawlings to 65 interfaith religious leaders gathered at
"Preserving Local Communities Amid the Storms of Globalization," a seminar
held April 27 at the International Seafarers' Center in Port Newark, New
A Presbyterian minister and former member of the National Council of
Churches, Rawlings is president of the United Nations Association USA (New
Jersey Division), which sponsored the event along with the Seamen's Church
Institute of New York and New Jersey (SCI).
He joined other advocates, academics, and labor leaders in sounding an
alarm as more white-collar jobs follow globalizations economics to distant
shores. It was a wake up call to religious leaders to understand and create
dialogue concerning globalization.
"What happened to our fervor?" said Monsignor John Gilchrist, pastor of
Holy Cross Parish in Harrison, New Jersey and chair of the Newark
Archdiocesan Commission for Inter-Religious Affairs. "If this were the
1970s, the room would be overflowing with religious people taking the lead
in transformational social justice. Can it be that we are only focused on
Fighting battles already fought
Labor and advocacy experts presented a gloomy portrait of globalization
that will continue to erode the quality of life for the middle and
professional classes. Poor and immigrant workers, already marginalized,
will find that government protections are not being enforced or heeded,
"Who would believe that we have to fight the battle for a safe workplace
when we already have the laws? People are working high-risk positions for
low wages. Injury and death rates are rising among these low-paying jobs,"
said Richard Cunningham, executive director of New Labor, a New Brunswick,
New Jersey community group that provides programs and advocates for Latino
According to Dr. Eileen Appelbaum, labor economist and director of the
Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University, already 300,000 high tech
jobs have been outsourced. "It happened so quickly that it is not a stretch
to count the other 14 million US high tech jobs in grave jeopardy. Look at
what happened to manufacturing jobs," she said.
The future job outlook is equally bleak. According to US Labor Department
statistics released in February 2004, the top ten occupations with the
largest job growth through 2012 include seven that are considered low
paying. These include retail salespersons, customer service reps, food prep
and serving workers, cashiers, janitors and cleaners, waiters and
waitresses, and nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants. Only three
professionsregistered nurses, post-secondary teachers, and general
operations managersrequired a college degree.
"All of this leads to increased anxiety among white collar workers.
Families suffer. People are afraid to ask for time off to take care for a
sick child or elderly parent. Workers take pay cuts to keep medical
benefits or exchange health care coverage for more wages," said Appelbaum.
She is concerned that skilled workers are facing uncertainty while
corporations enjoy their highest profits. According to the Center for
Economic and Public Research, corporate profits have grown substantially
since 2000, cutting into employee compensation. In addition, corporate
reinvestment is at its lowest point.
"Even the great boom of the 90's was really a hoax. Local governments
offered incentive packages to corporations where many pay little or no
taxes," said John Shure, president of New Jersey Policy Perspective.
"Median wages in New Jersey actually declined. Wages fell for everyone
without a college diploma. "
Shure looks to faith-based communities to join other labor advocates
because "you can play to peoples noblest sentiments. We live in a culture
that exalts the rugged individual. If you haven't made it economically, it
is your fault. Our task is to return to a sense that we are in this
together. That won't be easy because we will need to fight individual greed
that permeates our government, culture, and consumer nature."
The American workers' dilemma has long been high on the agenda of workers
in other countries. There is a greater sense of consciousness of workers'
rights and abuses in international agencies such as the United Nations.
Tanny Mukhopadhyay, policy specialist for the United Nations, urged
religious leaders to look to internationally agreed documents. The
International Labor Organization's Standards of Aspiration clearly
demonstrate a model workplace. While international workers' organizations
and the United Nations agree on shared workplace goals, many local
governments ignore their findings.
"The spectrum of debate worldwide has shifted dramatically to the right,"
she said. "What most of us knew as the left is now the center. Unless there
is a way for people on the ground to network through organizations, global
economic forces will look only for low-corporate overhead and low labor
Church World Service has also monitored the impact of globalization on
local cultures. Ms. Rajyashri Waghray, Director of CSW's Education and
Advocacy, admonished governments for abdicating their role to civil
society. "Today it seems we only need the State be elected and to defend
us. Governments are not expected to act when globalization breaks down
communities and culture."
Labor leaders understand the loss of civil society. Today 12% of workers
belong to unions, compared to close to 40% following World War II,
according to Alan Kauffman of the Communications Workers of America.
Dilemma for religious leaders
It is difficult for even those religious leaders involved in workplace
ministry to take a firm stand. The Rev. Jean R. Smith, SCI's executive
director, has served a global community of seafarers for 13 years. "The
various factions surrounding globalization are asking us to stand staunchly
by their political agenda. Are we for American jobs to the exclusion of
workers from developing nations? Do we stand by silently as we see
seafarers paid exceedingly different pay scales for the same work? An easy
answer to such complex questions means that nobody wins. Keeping the
Institute's doors open to all sides means that at least there will be a
place for debate" said Smith.
Marge Christie of Christ Episcopal Church, Ridgewood, New Jersey, took a
more cynical view of the lack of debate in faith communities. "Apathy is
directly related to this issue's complexity, she explained. We can
certainly mobilize around issue of sexuality; why not find a way to connect
to progressive religious ethics?"
Dr. Louie Crew, a member of the Episcopal Church's Executive Council and
Grace Church, Newark, New Jersey, found the message to religious leaders
sobering. "This is like an Intensive Care Unit response to a Christian
conscience that has lost its vital signs in the community."
The close connection between globalization and church funding was not lost
on some in the audience. Endowment income and pension plans are linked to
the revenues generated by a stock market dominated by global corporations.
The Rev. Thomas A. Kerr, Jr., canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of New
Jersey, hoped that conferences like this could spark the start of difficult
discussions within parishes.
"Individuals who have decision-making capabilities depend on investments.
That individual's economic status affects how money is viewed. It may be
hard to get a conversation going about ethics," said Kerr.
The Rev. Geoffrey Curtiss, rector of All Saints' in Hoboken and a member of
the Jubilee Interfaith Organizing Committee in New Jersey, encouraged
networking. "There are established networks of social justice being laid
throughout our region. We all need to get involved. People of faith need to
build another constituency for social change that builds community and does
not reward greed."
The United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA) is
the catalyst for such conversations throughout the country. As a convener
for a wide variety of groups, UNA-USA provides a bipartisan forum for
analysis and discussion on a wide range of global issues (www.unausa.org).
The Seamen's Church Institute of New York and New Jersey advocates for the
personal, professional and spiritual well being of mariners. Established in
1834, SCI is an ecumenical agency affiliated with the Episcopal Church.
--Debra Wagner is director of communications of Seamen's Church Institute
of New York and New Jersey.
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